Vegvisir Symbol Meaning


The Vegvísir is an ancient symbol of Icelandic origin whose purpose is to help its bearer to find the right path. It can be found in media such as The Huld Manuscript and in the medieval magic book Galdrabók.

One of its uses, which by the way still survives in Iceland, is to paint it on the door of your house, so that your home and your life will be like a ship with a compass and will move in the right direction.

Today it appears on numerous objects and places but mostly in the form of a tattoo. Let's learn more about this mysterious symbol and its origins.

The importance of magic in ancient Iceland

To understand the Vegvísir, as can be any other symbol used as an amulet, spell or magical item, we must first know the great importance of the sorcery tradition of magic in Iceland, very ancient and highly influential on the native population.

Sources of spells date back to the Middle Ages in old Norse sagas, which are a unique part of Icelandic heritage. In ancient times, magic spells were as vital to the Icelanders as food is to the body.

They existed in all aspects of life and came as second nature to man, through his desires and fears: the individual's desire to understand and control fate, as well as the force of nature, is reflected in the magic spells of the Icelanders.

Etymology of Vegvísir

The word Vegvísir is derived from two Icelandic words: Veg and Vísir. Veg in turn comes from Vegur, which means road or path and Vísir is guide, so Vegvísir, symbolizes the force that guides us when we are lost, helps us not to wander, to find our true path.

Sources of the Vegvisir Symbol

The Vegvísir in the Huld Manuscript

Vegvísir is one of the many symbols that appear in the Huld Manuscript (the word Huld comes from hulda, meaning secret), a book from 1860 that collects research contents carried out in Iceland by Geir Vigfusson.

Vegvisir in Galdraskræða Skugga

A similar version of the Vegvísir appears in the book Galdraskræða Skugga, first published in 1940 by Jochum M. Eggertson (1896-1966), better known as "Skuggi", meaning "shadow", a very prolific and somewhat controversial farmer and writer because of his view of life, reflected in his books.

The Galdraskræða was illustrated and handwritten by the author himself, and he originally published only a limited edition of 150 numbered copies. It is a collection of about 200 ancient spells from Icelandic folklore and a set of magical runes.

Recently, in 2013, the designer Arnar Fells Gunnarsson redesigned this work for his final project at the University of Arts in Iceland. It is a work in which he simplifies the graphic elements and the representation is clearer and cleaner, but always respecting the work of Skuggi's original.

The color chosen for the symbols is red, which symbolizes the use of blood in ancient rituals (while the strokes of the graphic elements are made with blood, the spell is cast).

Vegvisir in the Galdrabók

But before this document, the Vegvísir appeared in the Galdrabók: a grimoire (book of magical content) of Icelandic origin dated around 1600 and composed of 47 quotations. This book was composed by four different scribes: three Icelandic and one Danish, who worked with material from Iceland. It was most likely started in the late 17th to mid-17th century.

The quotations from the Galdrabók are written in runic and Latin and tell us about symbolism, invocation of Christian entities, demons, pagan Nordic deities, use of herbs and magical devices, etc.

A part of the incantations is focused on protection, such as problems caused by pregnancy, headache, insomnia, incantations, disorientation at sea and plague.

Others are intended to protect the wearer, kill animals, find thieves, put people to sleep, cause flatulence, bewitch women and instill fear in the enemy as the Aegishjalmur (word that comes from the Old Norse: ægishjálmr, and means "helmet of Ægir").

There was a publication of this book in Swedish, in 1921 by Natan Lindqvist. There was also an English edition much later, in 1989 by the writer Stephen Flowers, better known as Edred Thorsson, (considered one of the greatest exponents in knowledge of runology and mysticism) author of the highly recommended book "Futhark: the magic of the runes".

There is another version of the Galdrabók called "manuscript Lbs 143 8th" dating from 1670 and published in print for the first time in 2004 under the title "Galdrakver" or "little book of magic".

The original is in the National University Library of Iceland in Reykjavik. This book differs from the Galdrabók in that it contains only white magic spells. The author is unknown.

Vegvisir in Navigation

There is a big difference between the vegvisir and the Viking compass as an instrument for navigation. The compass used by the Norse people at sea was the solar compass.

According to its structure, it bears no resemblance to the Vegvísir; however, some experts point out that it may have been the inspiration for its creation.

The Viking compass, also known as the Nordic orienteering compass, is composed of two elements: on the one hand, a wooden disk with a stick sticking out in the center and on the other hand, it had a sunstone.

In this way the Vikings navigated without a compass or rather, they had their own compass.

This stone was the Iceland spar, a transparent stone. This crystal has double refraction and is generated thanks to an unusual property called "birefringence" which allows it to easily detect the sun's rays.

Even if it is cloudy or the sun has just hidden, this variety of polished calcite polarizes the ultraviolet rays so that it is easier to detect its origin, where the sun is a very clear bluish spot on the crystal.

Once the sun was located thanks to the transparent stone, the Vikings marked its position on the wooden disk, as if the sun were visible. They marked the shadow it reflected from the central pole and thanks to this they could identify the cardinal points.

The Hungarians who projected and promoted this hypothesis conducted experiments with these sunstones and were able to locate north with a margin of error of only 4 degrees of variation.

This method was still working almost an hour after sunset. A proof that the Viking sun compass could work in cloudy weather conditions.

Naturally when the sun was shining, it was sufficient to use only the wooden disk, which was placed floating on a container to keep it horizontal. The shadow of the stick clearly indicated the East-West, (A sundial known as the Viking sundial).

Some scholars point to alternatives to Icelandic spar, a material not found in Norway, Denmark or Sweden. This attests that the ancient Vikings were navigating for centuries without the aid of their famous Norse compass until they discovered Iceland.

Alternative crystals used include iolite, andalusite, tourmaline and staurolite. All of them are minerals that change color when they absorb more light.

Vegvisir v.s. Aegishjalmur

The symbol of the Aegishjalmur is very similar to the magical part of the Vegvísir, a magical emblem of protection used by Viking warriors.

Both are Icelandic symbols whose meanings have been translated as "spell of terror or fear".

Part of the spells are focused on protection, such as incantations, disorientation at sea, plagues and other diseases. They are intended to protect the wearer and instill fear in the enemy.

Vegvisir v.s. Compass Rose

Due to its graphic appearance and meaning, it has also been determined that the Vegvisir has some similarity with the compass rose because both images have 8 cardinal points. The compass rose is a symbol in the form of a circle and is represented by 32 deformed diamonds that point the direction.

A course is determined by the cardinal points of the compass rose, each of which has a numerical value or angle established according to certain criteria.

This navigational chart was an invention of the Mallorcan Ramon Llull and contains the 4 general divisions (north, south, east and west).

These 4 parts are then divided again to create lateral orientations (northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest). Subsequently, they are divided again to create the collateral bearings (north-northeast, east-northeast, east-southeast, south-southeast, south-southwest, west-southwest, west-northwest and north-northwest).